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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

The BP oil spill and financial crisis share in common more than just profound tragedy and massive clean-up costs. In both cases, governmental commissions have revealed widespread wrongdoing by individuals and the entities for which they work. The public has demanded justice, yet the law enforcement response in both cases has been underwhelming. In particular, no criminal indictments have been sought for any of the corporations responsible for the Macondo oil-rig explosion or for the Wall Street banks involved in the financial meltdown. This governmental restraint reflects a deep-seated ambivalence about corporate criminal liability. Though scholars have been debating the justifiability of prosecuting and punishing corporations since the doctrine’s inception just over 100 years ago, virtually no progress has been made by either side. Thus, we have devastating instances of corporate crime and no good justification for prosecuting and punishing corporations. The Article seeks to diagnose the reason for the widespread consternation about the doctrine of corporate criminal liability. It then advances a new theoretical foundation for the doctrine. More specifically, the Article seeks to justify corporate criminal liability by arguing not that the corporation deserves to be punished for its wrongdoing but instead that its members do. Thus the Article conceives of corporate criminal liability as a way of targeting the corporation’s officials, who are blameworthy just in virtue of their role within the corporation. The Article ends by identifying a series of corporate sanctions that reflect the rationale for corporate criminal liability advanced here.

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